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El Anatsui - biography

* 1944 Anyako, Ghana. Lives in Nsukka, Nigeria.

One of the most acclaimed sculptors on the international scene, El Anatsui trained as a sculptor at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana (1965–68). Since 1975, he has been a professor of sculpture at the University of Nigeria Nsukka where he became a leading member of the Nsukka School.

Over the years, Anatsui has created innovative wood panel sculptures in which he has focused on themes relating to African history and colonial experience, using marks made by the chainsaw and oxyacetylene flame as a metaphor for the destruction of African indigenous cultures by colonialism and its aftermath. Through a rigorous, formal experimentation with African syllabary and sign systems, including Uli motifs, Nsibidi signs, Bamum scripts, Adinkra symbols, and Vai scripts, his sculptures in wood, such as the Patches of History series (1993), suggest a critical connection between slavery and colonialism on the one hand, and on the other, the disappearance of African visual and textual archives, and the loss of historical memory in the age of postcolonialism.

More recently, he has used metals—aluminum strips from liqueur bottle caps, rusty metal graters used to make garri out of cassava, old offset printing plates, and evaporated milk cans—to create large-scale, wall-bound and freestanding "metal cloths” with immense visual power. In these highly allusive, monumental constructions (Adinkra Sasa, 2003, Crumbling Wall, 2000), Anatsui transforms everyday materials, through exacting craft processes, into new orders of surplus visuality, while linking forms of contemporary consumption and desire with enduring global networks of commerce and politics.

Anatsui's project for Who Knows Tomorrow, a new monumental "metal cloth," is installed on the colossal façade of the Alte Nationalgalerie. The visual confrontation and dialogue between the draped sculpture—which perceptually refuses entry into the museum and the history it embodies—and the assertive declaration of the building and its contents regarding German art, suggests striking and fraught interconnections between the past and present, the self and its other, between colonial imagination and postcolonial agency, and between different orders of critical subjectivities.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

Earth Growing Roots, SDSU University Art Gallery, San Diego State University (2009); El Anatsui: Nyekor, Spazio Rossana Orlandi, Milan (2006); El Anatsui: Gawu, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno (2003–2008); Hakpa, French Cultural Centre, Lagos (1997); El Anatsui, October Gallery, London (1995); Old and New: An Exhibition of Sculpture in Assorted Wood, National Museum, Lagos (1991); Venovize: Ceramic Sculptures, Faculty of Arts and Design, Cornwall College (1987); Pieces of Wood: An Exhibition of Mural Sculpture, The Franco-German Auditorium, Lagos (1987); Sculptures, Photographs, Drawings, Goethe-Institut, Lagos (1982); Wood Carvings, Community for the Arts, Cummington, Massachusetts (1980); Broken Pots: Sculpture by El Anatsui, British Council Enugu/Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka (1979); Wooden Wall Plaques, Asele Art Gallery, Nsukka (1976).


Selected Group Exhibitions:

3rd Moscow Biennial, Moscow (2009); The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008); World Histories, Des Moines Art Center (2008); Sonsbeek 2008: Grandeur, Sonsbeek Park, Arnhem (2008); Tapping Currents: Contemporary African Art and the Diaspora, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2008); 52nd Venice Biennial (2007); Altered, Stitched and Gathered, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2007); 8th Sharjah Biennial (2007); 7th Dak'Art Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Dakar (2006); Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Johannesburg Art Gallery (2004–2007); 5th Gwangju Biennale (2004); Transferts, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (2003); Liverpool Biennial (2002); Africas: The Artist and the City, CCCB – Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona (2001); El Tiempo de Africa, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (2000); 9th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1998); 7. Triennale der Kleinplastik, Stuttgart (1998); The Poetics of Line – Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. (1997); Container '96 – Art Across Oceans, Langelinie, Copenhagen (1996); Transvangarde, October Gallery, London (1996); 1st Johannesburg Biennale (1995); Configura 2, Erfurt (1995); An Inside Story – African Art of Our Time, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo (1995); Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1995–1996); 8th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1995); New Currents '93 – Avant-Garde Nigerian Art, Didi Museum, Lagos (1993); Arte Amazonas, Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro (1993); Five Contemporary African Artists, 44th Venice Biennial (1990); Contemporary African Artists: Changing Tradition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1990–1992); AKA '86 – Inaugural Exhibition of the AKA Circle of Artists, The French Centre, Enugu; Goethe-Institut, Lagos (1986); Christian Arts in Nigeria, Holy Trinity Cathedral Hall, Onitsha (1979); The Nsukka School, Art Gallery of the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture, Port Harcourt (1979); Tekarts Expo 5, Accra Arts Centre (1974).

Major Public Collections:

Musée Ariana, Geneva; Asele Institute, Nimo; The British Museum, London; The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington D.C.; The Hammermill Collection, Hellebaek, Helsingør; University of Iowa Museum of Art; Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth; Indianapolis Museum of Art; The National Gallery of Art, Lagos; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C.; Osaka Foundation of Culture; Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo; World Bank Art Collection, Washington D.C.; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf; Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire; Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, Florida; St. Louis Art Museum; de Young Museum, San Francisco; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Selected Awards:

Prince Claus Award, Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Amsterdam (2009); Public's Prize, 7. Triennale der Kleinplastik, Stuttgart (1999); Bronze Prize, 9th Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1998); Kansai Telecasting Corporation Prize, Osaka Sculpture Triennale (1995); Honorable Mention (joint), 44th Venice Biennial (1990); Honorable Mention, 1st Ghana National Art Competition, Accra (1968).

Selected Bibliography:

El Anatsui, New York 2009; El Anatsui: Gawu, Llandudno 2003; John Picton et al., El Anatsui: A Sculpted History of Africa, London 1998; Olu Oguibe, "Beyond Death and Nothingness", in: African Arts, 31, 1, 1998, pp. 48–55; Gerard Houghton, "Ancestral Voices: El Anatsui", in: World Sculpture News, 4, Spring 1998, pp. 32–37; Simon Ottenberg, "El Anatsui: Colorful Woods and Dark Lines", in: New Traditions from Nigeria: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, Washington D.C. 1997, pp. 154–179; Chika Okeke-Agulu, "Slashing Wood, Eroding Culture: Conversation with El Anatsui", in: Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, 1, 1994, pp. 34–40; Olu Oguibe, "El Anatsui in the Public Space", in: Third Text, 23, Summer 1993, pp. 69–77; El Anatsui, "Sankofa: Go Back an' Pick: Three Studio Notes and a Conversation", in: Third Text, 23, Summer 2003, pp. 39–53; Alois Wokoun, "Hradby a Braby Sochare Anatsuiho", in: Novy Orient, 44, November 1989, pp. 302–305.


© Press information of the organizer

El Anatsui
Alte Nationalgalerie
(Old National Gallery)
Bodestraße 1-3
10178 Berlin

Who Knows Tomorrow
A project by the National Gallery Berlin
4 June - 26 Sept. 2010

>> El Anatsui
Photos and information in Universes in Universe, incl. Venice Biennial, Sharjah Biennial, Africa Remix


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